Rubber is the gardener’s best friend

it took a while to get it right, but the invention of rubber led to that indispensable tool - the garden hose

With just the twist of a tap you can give your plants what they need to recover from that wilted feeling; providing of course, that you do it between your community’s posted hours for watering … or, if you have your very own source of unlimited water you can do it whenever you feel like it.

The above-mentioned tap is the one to which you’ve connected your garden hose(s). The hose, depending on its length, can then be hauled to the far reaches of your garden and the flow therefrom carefully directed to the base of the thirsting plants. On the other hand, if you want your growing things to believe that the clouds are at their beck and call to deliver rain on demand, the garden hose can be connected to any variety of sprinklers to give that more or less natural effect.

Whatever did we do before the advent of the garden hose? Yep… watering cans were de rigeur and numerous weighty trips from well, barrel, or tap helped keep us, as well as the garden in good shape. Watering, though, meant time, which in the 21st century is a scarce commodity … or so we’re told. Thus, over the years, the garden hose became all-important, and rubber hoses were one of the very first rubber items made.

Rubber was known as early as the 16th century in Europe, and Christopher Columbus introduced rubber balls, made by American natives, to Spain. Still, it took the experiments (and accidents) of a couple of American inventors with household names to bring rubber from being brittle when cold and sticky when hot, to the soft, dry, and pliable substance we know today.

It was Charles Goodyear who dropped the ball, so to speak, by spilling a mixture of rubber and sulfur on his hot stove, left the clean-up till later, then discovered the smooth dryness and flexibility of the first chunk of “vulcanized” rubber. Just to prove that the new blob would hold up to cold as well, he left the chunk nailed outside his kitchen door that winter night.

Unfortunately, Charles lacked the funds to carry on his experiments to perfect the vulcanization process, pawned his family’s belongings to carry on his work, went to debtor’s prison, and died still heavily in debt.

It wasn’t until 10 years after Goodyear’s death that the efforts of another good man, Benjamin F. Goodrich, convinced of the benefits of rubber, used his charm to raise the money to start the B.F. Goodrich Co. and was soon producing rubber hoses.

Actually their first best-selling product was the cotton-covered rubber fire hose, but by 1871 gaskets, jar rings, and washing machine wringers were common rubber products. But for outdoor household use the company’s chief product was the garden hose, soon to become an indispensable aid to the gardener and admirers of green lawns.

As any gardener knows and silently or vehemently curses, however, garden hoses are not without their foibles. Garden hoses need connections and nice new washers to attach them properly to the source of water … these junctures are known to dribble, spray, and raise water rate bills.

Garden hoses provide major tripping hazards on patios, decks, and lawns. Garden hoses can split or crack and deliver water to unwanted places along their length. The longer the garden hose, the greater its capacity for gleeful snarls, tangles, and knots. A garden hose delights in getting caught under or around chairs, tables, planters, or BBQ’s. All these kinks in a garden hose’s character tend to produce *$%#@! eruptions from impatient gardeners.

Rubber, being the genuine product it is, and at times known to be in short supply from its native tropical sources, was bound to be replaced by plastic to most gardeners’ dismay. We didn’t know what a kink was till we wondered why, with the tap wide open, no water was coming from the nozzle at the end of our plastic hose. Think kink!



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